Sunday, September 10, 2017

Because we need it, They Will Come

It is the things we have done and lived through that matter to us, so much more than words that have been said to us. We have all experienced challenges, tragedies, and failures. In large part, they make us who we are.

I have struggled this last week, watching Irma march across the Caribbean. Watched as the "cone of uncertainty" included so many Floridians. You are blessed if you are able to ignore these storms. I spend months each year anxiously watching the Atlantic. When I open my browser each morning, one of the automatic pages that opens is the National Hurricane Center. I struggle not to obsess, but each time an "X" appears, I worry about it. When an "X" becomes a named storm, it is worse. Fortunately, the vast majority of them either dissipate, or they head for somewhere other than Florida.

Hitting elsewhere is a hollow relief. I have lived through one more tropical cyclone than I care to. Stated otherwise, one is too many. I grew up isolated from such events, in unaffected climates. Only upon moving to paradise (pronounced flawr-i-duh), did I take notice. I visited Miami shortly after Andrew (1992), ran when Floyd threatened Jacksonville (in 1999, this same weekend, about 18 years ago), but it went north. I ran from Ivan in 2004 and Dennis in 2005. I am a runner, when they say "get out," I go.

I watched many I know run from Katrina in 2005. Shortly after, I drove west into the mess she left behind. I have become intimately familiar with cyclones. And it is troubling that we can be so relieved when they hit somewhere else. The fact is, there are no "good" storms, and there is no "good" place for them to strike. Every escape for one of us is tragedy and destruction for someone else, and wishing it on others, in selfish exchange for your salvation hurts.

Ivan hit me pretty hard. I wrote about that experience in May this year, encouraging people to prepare for the 2017 season, Time to Prepare for Hurricane Season. Taking the preparation seriously is important. And in times like this, our preparation and resolve are tested. That post listed the ten worst cyclones in history, but the list will be different soon. We know Harvey will join the list; we knew as we watched, spellbound, as incredibly selfless volunteers and professionals hauled people through the floodwater only weeks ago.

We know that Irma will likely join the list also. We don't want to admit it in advance, and we don't want to talk about it, but we know it. It is not an intellectual conclusion, but a feeling tugging at us from the root of our being. Our "guts" are getting to the answer long before our intellect can. With so many and so much in its path, I watch and wait in helpless anguish. Certainly, some population centers on the East Coast have been spared the eye of Irma, but there will be damage there. The path of storm-eye landfall from Naples/Ft. Myers north through Tampa/St. Petersburg promises to be heartbreaking.

2004, when I experienced Ivan, we had four major storms in Florida: Charlie, Francis, Ivan, and Jeanne. They were all notable, destructive, and deadly. Only Charlie remained on the top-ten list as of last May (number 10), and it appears likely it will soon not be. The next year, 2005, we thought Dennis was bad in the Florida panhandle. The winds were high here, but the damage not as extensive for most in Pensacola. We were blessed that it hit to our East; close, but we were not on Dennis' "strong side." The joke was that everything that could blow away had blown away the summer before in Ivan.

The "joke"; see, we came to a point at which we could make jokes about the experiences we had shared. Not so much with outsiders, but among ourselves. We, those who had lived through them both. It is a shared experience, a kindred. We run into people who have lived through these cyclones, and we have a commonality of experience, a shared understanding. Once you are touched by a tropical cyclone, it becomes part of who you are, and you understand and sympathize with your fellow travelers in a new way.

"Close" is a relative term also. Ivan and Dennis struck relatively close to Pensacola. But when you consider that term with cyclones, "close" can be hundreds of miles depending on the storm. Irma is a very large storm, some estimating it to be 400 miles across. As I note this morning's projected path over Tallahassee later tomorrow, I ponder that 400 mile size and the 200 mile drive from here to Tallahassee.

Governor Scott announced early last week that this storm was likely to affect every Florida county. It is looking increasingly likely he was right. Reports last night from local lumber stores here confirmed that there remains a brisk business in plywood. Generator sales have stopped only because there are none left to sell. At 200 miles from predicted eye-passing, panhandle people that remember Erin, Opel, Ivan, Dennis, and Katrina are battening down, waiting, and watching. Close is a term that takes on new meaning in cyclones.

If you have "blue-roofed" a house, hung plywood over a window, sand-bagged a doorway, eaten red beans and rice provided in a church tent from Indiana (or other distant state), been handed MRE's (meals ready to eat) or bagged ice by a friendly kid in a national guard uniform, had your ID checked entering your neighborhood by a peace officer from hundreds of miles distant, you have lived it. Once you have lived it, you will never forget it.

The destruction is heart-breaking. The trauma is incredible, and the recovery is agonizingly slow. I would wish that none ever have to experience it. I sit this morning agonizing for them, updating our Office Closure lists, Tweeting, watching, and hating. I hate cyclones, wherever they are. I hate what they do to people.

But, there is good. There is an unbelievable population of people that will show up in the aftermath; with nothing to gain, they will pitch in and help out. There will be church tents and hot food from places of which you have never heard. There will be helping hands and generous souls. There will be shared tears, broken hearts, and hugs. They will listen, lament, and help.

I am reminded of a speech in Field of Dreams (1989) in which Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones), explains people's needs, he says they will come to see this ball field built by Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner). He says:

People will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it.

And that is true of Harvey and Irma. People will come. They will come to Florida and Texas for days and weeks to come. They will turn up in driveways, at churches, schools, and more; From towns of which you've never heard, arriving in towns with which they are equally unfamiliar. They will bring life and love with them, in the form of food, supplies, sweat, and tools. They will work, they will listen and they will help. Their presence will reassure, whether they wear a uniform or not.

Volunteers support us and reinforce us. Already, we see power crews readying at the storm's periphery. They will move in force once this eye passes. We see volunteer first-responders from places like Tennessee and California (not a typo, see below).

Los Angeles Fire Department Search and Rescue

Power Trucks massing for response

Array of guard and military resources waiting

Amphibious vehicles positioning

Tennessee Search and Rescue rolls out for Florida

I could have gone happily through this life without being touched by the effects of Ivan, Dennis, Katrina, and their ilk. I hated them then, and I hate them still. But, I am grateful for the people that I have met and worked with because of these storms. I am a hurricane survivor, and can say with assurance that a great many more will be hurricane survivors. We understand the challenges you face and the pain you will endure, as only someone who has lived it can.

Good will return. Buildings will be repaired, livelihoods will be rebuilt, and the scars will heal. Not because we cannot bear them, but precisely because we can, we will, and we have.

As I sit this morning typing this, my thoughts are with you that are sheltering, evacuated, scared, tired, and at wit's end. I cannot be there with you, but I can tell you it gets better. The storm will pass, and they will come.

If you are one of those that wants to help and don't know how to begin, here is a link for Volunteer Florida. You don't have to live here, we'll take all the helping hands and hugs we can get our hands on. Governor Scott called for volunteers early last week, and thousands have signed up so far. It is an amazing outpouring of compassion and love.

As Terrance Mann said, "People will come." In that movie, he said that the "one constant" in America is baseball. Perhaps. But I think that the one constant in America is good-hearted, compassionate, and hard-working people. And they will come. We are so lucky to have them. Welcome to Florida.

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